Santa Fe


The title of curator Francesco Bonami’s installment of the second SITE Santa Fe Biennial—“TRUCE: Echoes of Art in an Age of Endless Conclusions”—waves a white flag and suggests that viewers approach the exhibition with an olive branch. Neither grand conclusive claims nor particularly new strategies were to be found. Leaner than the first SITE Santa Fe Biennial in 1995, this year’s installment featured an international cast of young artists—so young, in fact, that South African William Kentridge, born in 1955, came across here as an elder statesman—working within the frameworks of strategies associated with the pioneers of a previous generation (especially Vito Acconci, Chris Burden, Andy Warhol, and Bruce Nauman).

For all the suggestion of surrender in the title and despite the often bereft tone to the show as a whole, the works on view were frequently passive-aggressive—even aggressive-aggressive—with regard to the viewer. While the Richard Gluckman–designed SITE Santa Fe has glorious, grand spaces, the former beer warehouse was broken into numerous noisy little warrens with sound seeping from one chamber into the next. In this context, Sam Taylor-Wood’s video installation Pent Up, 1996, was comparatively majestic in its reach. Her videos of five individuals formed a moving horizontal frieze, all larger-than-life, alternating light and dark private worlds: a solitary woman pacing a city block in daylight and talking to the camera; an older man in a dark room, seated in profile with downcast eyes; a young man in his underwear, whom we watch over his shoulder; a drunken young woman in a dimly lit pub where no one notices her slurs and stumbles; and a twitchy, skittish fellow alone in a garden patio who communes with invisible but apparently real demons. Taylor-Wood’s lonely scenarios are choreographed so that shifts in posture set up relationships among the characters, and spoken words seem to jump in spurts like wildfire from one video monitor to another. While synchronizing five separate actors for ten minutes across their video worlds is an elaborate and complex task, it makes one aware of the sheer immensity of effort needed to hold together the thick net of culture we each navigate daily.

Two of the friendlier and funkier works in the show were found behind curtains. Shielded by faux black velvet was Estonian artist Jaan Toomik’s small-scale video projection The Sun Rises, The Sun Sets, 1997, a quivering rhomboid of the sun rising over the Baltic in Estonia and setting in watery Venice. For all of Toomik’s Buckaroo Banzai, garage-band approach to technology—the installation is literally held together with gaffer’s tape—the piece represents a concise and elegant domestication of media. The sophisticated-looking video image was bounced off a mirror in the bottom of a tin pan and onto the wall. Water dripped into the pan, not only rippling the surface of the image but suggesting a leak. Also installed behind a curtain was Cameroon artist Pascale Marthine Tayou’s Socks Cake, 1997, featuring a mandala of motley socks in a space dusted with flour. Dried fish were suspended in midair along with flimsy plastic grocery bags. Intense little drawings were taped to the walls of this nested shrine. Tayou’s work was genuinely welcoming, specific, and modest—a chamber of grace and delight in a show wrought with hipster panache.

Tracey Moffatt’s creepy but gorgeous film Night Cries, 1989, was shown on a video loop in a little room where Tobias Rehberger’s shag pod provided seating. (To Mr. Rehberger, who produced a variety of perches throughout this exhibition: Thank you.) Rehberger’s ersatz ’50s lounge matched the look of Moffatt’s bad TV setting for her weird, airless, and nightmarish tale. Against a studio setup of the Australian desert and a spewing, rocky coast, mother and daughter are bound into an inescapable loop of care and carelessness.

Another fine piece was Noritoshi Hirakawa’s video tower, Koto-no-owari (End of the thing, 1995), of languorous sexual awakening fifty years after The Bomb. It opens with a cityscape obliterated by a blast that slides into a close-up of a woman’s beautiful face. Her head is tilted as if on a pillow, and she moves ever so slowly, blooming from black and white to color, all in a way that gives a thickness to an electronic medium.

While much of the work here was engaging, the catalogue as a document will be of little use to those beyond the participants. Published before the sited installations went up, Bonami’s words billow with flamboyance, drama, and romanticism, just like his introduction to a collection of six essays published last year, Echoes: Contemporary Art at the Age of Endless Conclusions, on which the subtitle of this exhibition was based. Regarding Finnish artist Esko Männikkö’s accomplished series of color photographs of rural Texans, for example, the catalogue noted: “In ancient cultures, to be poor did not mean to have no possessions, but to be lonely.” Yes, in “ancient cultures,” there was agreement about what was generally important, but as for the armchair anthropology, that’s another matter. While the collection offers a window on the current international art scene, the catalogue is merely a strange hybrid of endless confusion.

MaLin Wilson is an art critic who lives in Santa Fe.